Sunday, October 30, 2016

Movie Review - "Sully" (2016)


Clint Eastwood's "Sully" is exactly what the trailers made the film out to be - A portrayal of the heroic team that landed their jet airplane on the Hudson River, with agencies and pilot safety specialists pointing out how badly their landing could have gone, when they should have just been grateful that everyone on board lived.

The plot is about as predictable as you can get, after the investigation surrounding the crash and the piloting ability of Captain Sully (Tom Hanks). Sully has nightmares about if he had attempted to fly the plane into LaGuardia and crashing into the heart of New York City. Basically, if you saw Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" then you know exactly how "Sully"'s story will turn out.

But there are three elements that elevate "Sully" to make it more noticeable than "Flight." One is the performances of the two lead actors, Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart, who plays Sully's co-pilot Jeff Skiles. Hanks gives us his usual charm and kind demeanor, which works for a man who put his career on the line to save 155 people. Eckhart, who is best known for playing Harvey Dent in "The Dark Knight," plays his role as a man convinced they did nothing wrong and that everyone else is incorrect. Together Hank and Eckhart play heroes who did what they had to in that moment, and don't feel they need to justify that to anyone who doesn't understand.


Another portion that stands out is the framing device of the plane crash. Rather than opening the film with the birds hitting the turbine and the ensuing chaos, we get to see everything from three different perspectives. First, we watch the reactions of the crew and passengers. This is followed by the crash seen from the responding service men, the ferry boats that saw the plane go down and rushed to help, the airline safety controllers who tried to radio the plane in and the Red Cross who was immediately on the scene with medical equipment and blankets. Finally, near the end of the film, we see everything unfold through Sully and Skiles eyes.

I'm glad they saved that perspective for last, even though every point of view made Sully look like a quick-thinking and experienced pilot.

But the best scene has to be the second point of view, where we watch how selfless the first responders were. Without even thinking about the dangerous situation, ferry-boat operators, random citizens on nearby boats and people just doing their everyday job go out of their way to save those in need.


Honestly, it is always heart-warming to see so much compassion for our fellow-men, especially in a movie based on true events.

Outside of those elements though, "Sully" is standard and pretty forgettable. While it is a treat to see Tom Hanks play more of the roles we've become come to know and love him for, not much about "Sully" really stands out. It is nice to see so many perspectives on this miracle, even the negative ones from the National Traffic Safety Board, but we knew nothing bad was going to happen to Sully. 155 people walked onto that plane, 155 people walked away a little bruised and with one hell of a story to tell. You can't ask for better results.

Final Grade: C

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Movie Review - "Sicario" (2015)


I will remember "Sicario" for being filled to the brim with tension in all the best possible ways. In a film about the escalating drug wars along the Mexican border, this is a film that is more about the morbid details of paranoid and fear than the action. In fact, for a movie with such a big military presence, there is very little gun play, but the promise of violence hangs around every corner, especially in the opening 40 minutes of the movie.

After a drug raid on an abandoned house in Arizona ends with the discovery of dozens of dead bodies left in the dry wall and two dead police officers, FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is called into confront the man responsible for these deaths. But Kate is kept in the dark throughout the majority of the film, especially when she's briefed that the mission will be happening in El Paso and the group is actually crossing over the Mexican border to Juarez, the drug smuggling hotspot.

Throughout this sequence of events, we are repeatedly shown that nothing good will be coming from this raid on Juarez and that brutality is inevitable. The tension continually mounts, as the convey has to divert when they hear gun fire, everyone becomes suspicious when a rogue state patrol car follows too closely, and we end up at the US-Mexican border, only to face gridlock and the convey is brought to a dead stop. The audience is told many times the most likely spot for confrontation would be at the border, and now everyone is stuck and unsure of where and who their enemy is.


Most of "Sicario" is like a good, well-timed jump scare. It is not the act of the jump scare that terrifies us, but knowing that it could happen at any moment, expecting it to happen any time, and not delivering on that until the right moment. The tension comes less from the action, and more from the waiting.

The audience is put in the same position as Kate, looking and waiting for something to pop off, so even the simple action of waiting in an alleyway or rolling down a window becomes a life-or-death situation. We mostly see this whole sequence from Kate's perspective, as she takes in and observes everything.

This sequence is wonderful because the tension is built up for the first act of "Sicario," never letting up and ending in a satisfying conclusion of paranoia and violence. Each scene flows into the next one and builds more on the disorder of the last scene. With brilliant pacing, atmosphere and a haunting score, we get one of the most memorable sequences in recent memory.

The rest of "Sicario" continues that creepy and unexpecting atmosphere, but gets a little too wrapped up the characters and plot to keep up the tension. The film loosens its grip on us and pulls back to tell us more about Kate and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). This doesn't diminish the film by any means, but the first act holds the scenes that are worth remembering.

Final Grade: B+

Monday, October 24, 2016

Movie Review - "The Magnificent Seven" (2016)


For a classic film lovers perspective, the newest "Magnificent Seven" is about what you would expect it to be - Like drinking a fine wine that has been diluted several times. You get a hint of the original marvelous flavor, but it tastes so watered down that it leaves hardly any impact.

For those unaware, 2016's "The Magnificent Seven" is a remake of the 1960 "The Magnificent Seven," which is an Americanization of the Japanese 1954 classic "Seven Samurai." Granted, "Seven Samurai" has been remade into many other well-known movies, most notably "A Bug's Life." Basically any film where a group of rag-tag heroes come together to fight for a bunch of defenseless people against an onslaught from some unrelenting force owes a lot to Akira Kurosawa's three-hour samurai epic. This new "Magnificent Seven" is just the latest film in that line, but now we're getting a remake of a remake.

Recently, I wrote a review on the 1960 "The Magnificent Seven," and I mentioned how the film kept many of the classic scenes of "Seven Samurai," especially the character building moments for our heroes, while still doing its own thing with the villagers and bandits. The film was both an homage to "Seven Samurai," while creating its own identity. However, the film did cut out the entire class system of "Seven Samurai," which helps give the Japanese film its staying power about why the samurai's would continue to fight for these people who don't deserve it, and cut out pretty much all the comedy from the original as well. Then again, cutting the runtime in half did mean many aspects would be lost.

Looking back on this though, while "Seven Samurai" is over three and a half hours long, and the 1960 "The Magnificent Seven" is slightly over two hours, I feel like "Seven Samurai" moves far quicker than its American counterpart. Or perhaps "Seven Samurai"'s time is more rewarding.


But getting back to the newest "The Magnificent Seven," it often came across like it didn't know where it was coming from. It clearly knows the story of the original movie, even taking some of the same musical queues from the 1960 film. But now the film is filled to the brim with action movie clich├ęs, characters only trying to out-cool each other, dropping zingers and one-liners, and having little to no character development in favor of more big action sequences.

I found the biggest flaw of "The Magnificent Seven" to be the character traits for every one of the seven, or lack thereof. Big name actors, like Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and a bit of Vincent D'Onofrio, get a bit more time to shine, but everyone else is delegated to their job or their ethnicity. Their race becomes their character. We learn very little about the assassin Billy Rocks or the sharp-shooting Red Harvest, outside of being Asian and Native American. I had even forgotten their names until I looked them up for this review, that's how little we know about them.

Even Denzel doesn't get any character development until the last five minutes of the film. He mostly orders others around, telling them what to do and to not run away when everyone in the town needs all the help they can get. Even his opening scene is lackluster - He goes into a bar, asks for information and a drink, shoots up everyone in the room except for Chris Pratt and leaves.
Chris Pratt stars in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures' THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.
That might seem like a typical Western opening, but compared to the introductions of the other leaders in these films, Kambei in "Seven Samurai," who honorably discards his samurai attire and look to disguise himself as a monk and save a helpless child from a bandit through peaceful methods, and Chris Adams in "The Magnificent Seven," who escorts a coffin to its grave to make sure this man gets a proper burial and does it all without having to kill anyone, this is a weak way to introduce the one who will lead a group of warriors who need to outthink their enemies instead of out-fight them.
Instead of a man who has thought of every possible outcome and will always attempt the peaceful solution above all others, we get a guy who will just shoot his way out of everything because he knows he's immune to bullets - the script told him so.
The newest "The Magnificent Seven" is nothing more than a dumb shoot-em-up western. Its fine in that regard, with plenty of action, explosions and one-liners from Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke. But if you were expecting a deeper story, on par with either the 1960 film or "Seven Samurai," don't expect to find it here. You'll get more character and heart out of "A Bug's Life" than you will this film.

Final Grade: C-

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Movie Review - The "Daimajin" Trilogy (1966)


I have heard tales of this trilogy for some time. I have never heard of any series of films that is so highly regarded in its own genre, and yet surprisingly so often overlooked as Daiei's "Daimajin" trilogy. However, after watching all three films, and I understand why it is seen this way.

From my background, the "Daimajin" trilogy was looked at as a group of giant monster films, when they are only monster movies for about ten minutes out of their eighty minute runtime. The rest of that time is spent in Feudal Japan and is more akin to a samurai film than a daikaiju flick. The plot of each of these three films differs slightly from the other, but they generall follow the same pattern - Set in the age of shoguns and samurai warlords, an evil faction rises up to claim power over another castle or neighboring village. The conquering gangs are ruthless and spare no one, as they slay even women and children that stand in their way. But the warlords and villagers continue to believe in God, who will make everything right again. The attackers don't believe in God and think everyone is foolish for believing in these superstitions. Just as things seem to be at their worst, with one last sacrificial pray, their God manifests himself as a massive, indestructible stone statue, ready to save those who believed in him from evil.


I admire these films for being able to seamlessly blend together period pieces with the daikaiju genre, while also having a strong religious message. While they do refer to this creature as "God," they never mention what religion these people worship, or where they got it from. In fact, it could be argued that this creature isn't even a God, just a monster who is loyal to those who are willing to make great sacrifices. In the first film, "Daimajin," it is said there is a monster inside the mountain and the statue of God is the only thing keeping the monster from breaking free. By the end of the film, their monument is destroyed and the Daimajin is running loose.

However, for these same reasons, I can see why most monster movie fans haven't seen the "Daimajin" films. They have only a few monster scenes, and those moments occur at the end of the samurai film about a struggle for power, and the strong religious message might throw some people off. I kept forgetting these films existed until I saw a physical copy in a Japanese-specialty store. No one talks about them and they are generally forgotten among other daikaiju films and the movies of Akira Kurosawa.

Yet those who have seen them genuinely enjoy them, myself included. Even if we hardly see the monster, there is this constantly looming threat that God might strike at any moment, especially in the second film, "Return of Daimajin." That while the samurai's and villagers have their feud, some are convinced that God will avenge the lives that have been lost.


But my favorite addition to these films was the soundtrack, created by the always wonderful Akira Ifukube. He is well-known for composing the soundtrack to many of Toho's monster films, including over 10 different Godzilla films. The sound of a monster film is just as important as the look of one, especially when the soundtrack can be as booming and powerful as the monster itself. Ifukube tended to create music that enhanced already powerful scenes, and he puts that to use in all three "Daimajin" movies. His music is always noticeable and its gives each scene the emotional punch it needed.

Out of the three films, I found the second film, "Return Of Daimajin" to be the best one. It has a similar plot to the first film, but this time the rival clan destroys the natives statue of God as a sign to show how powerless they are compared to this clan. But throughout the film, the Majin sneaks up on the troublemakers, sinking their boats into the water and providing fog as cover. This made the film more of a revenge tale, as the God seeks out those who would destroy him.


The weakest was certainly the last of the three films, "Daimajin Strikes Again." This one follows a group of four children as they climb God's mountain to save their fathers and some loggers from some douche building "weapons" (we never learn what these weapons are or why he needed so many men to build them). While the first two films were about the chaos of Feudal Japan and the need for power in that era, this one was about four kids with little character on a journey, with some monster scenes at the end. It has more in common with the 1960s cheesy Gamera films than the other two "Daimajin" films.

Overall, if you like daikaiju films and want to see something different, give the "Daimajin" trilogy a try. All three have wonderful cinematography, are well-paced and boast a score by Akira Ifukube. It amazes me that all three films came out in 1966, and yet are so expertly-crafted, blending together two vastly different genres into something unique and worth checking out.

Final Grades -
"Daimajin" - B
"Return of Daimajin" - B+
"Daimajin Strikes Again" - C+

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Movie Review - "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" (1936)


It is fascinating to watch "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" after having watched the majority of Frank Capra's library of films and seeing where what he became so well-known for, his ability to take the every-man and place him at the center of the universe, in its developmental stage. Capra would put this to use in films like "You Can't Take It With You," "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" and "It's A Wonderful Life," and "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" is the blue-print that would lead to those films.

The film begins in the great depression, when an eccentric millionaire unexpectedly passes away and leaves his 20 million dollar fortune to his long-lost nephew Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), a man living in a small town in Vermont and spends most of his time writing poems for greeting cards and playing the tuba. Longfellow is flown into New York City to finalize the deal, while the press has a field-day writing about him, nicknaming him the "Cinderella Man," helped by a young reporter, Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur), who pretends to fall for him to get all the big scoops firsthand.

Most people will recognize this was turned into an Adam Sandler comedy, "Mr. Deeds," but while almost everything in that film was played for cheap gags, watching a commoner get billions of dollars suddenly and the shock humor that comes with it, "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" has an immeasurable amount of class to all of it, mostly helped by the performances of Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. Cooper plays Deeds, not as a dim-witted man who falls for every trick in the book, but a man who knows what he wants and realizes that everyone who talks to him is probably looking for a hand-out. He doesn't give away the money to anyone asking for help, because those who have to ask have enough already. To him, it is the people who don't ask that need it the most.


Deeds is also overwhelmed by the enormity of New York, having never left his small town. And like Jefferson Smith in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington," Deeds wants to see it all and do it all. He asks the waiter to tell him if anyone famous walks into the restaurant, feeds a bag of donuts to a police horse, and stops by Grant's grave to pay his respects. He laments that he doesn't see a boring grave, like most people would, but a Ohio farmer who became a great solider that led to an even greater foundation for our country.

Moments like these are classic Capra scenes - A humble and honest man taking something we gloss over a hundred times a day and give it a meaning that has been lost on us. It comes across a little ham-fisted and forced in this film, which is why I can see Capra working out the kinks for his later projects.

Believe it or not, "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" is funnier than "Mr. Deeds" as well. The final scene, in particular, showcases Longfellow picking apart everything the court has thrown at him to prove that he is not mentally unbalanced and is probably more sane than anyone in the courtroom. Cooper puts it in simple terms and observes the strange habits of those close to him, like facial tics or people who crack their knuckles when they're thinking. The smile on Longfellow's face when he slides down the bannister of the mansion goes a long way, especially when the butler comes in with an equally big grin.

Overall, "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" is Capra still crafting is ultimate films about honest and good-hearted men. While there are plenty of moments where Cooper nails this in ways even James Stewart couldn't, the pacing is slow after Longfellow's first night on the town, and the story hasn't aged well, especially with the Babe Bennett character. Still, certainly worth a look as it is a pleasant feel-good movie.

Final Grade: B-

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Movie Review - "Suicide Squad" (2016)


Imagine "Guardians Of The Galaxy" if you removed any likability from the crew of outcasts and freaks, took out the massive world-building, threw out all the humor and fun, and made the soundtrack non-sensical by removing its link to the story. Add in a poorly-written story and off-kilter performances, and you'd get "Suicide Squad."

I'm not going to mince words on this one - "Suicide Squad" is a very poor attempt to copy some of the more goofy world-building that Marvel has done with films like "Guardians Of The Galaxy" and "Ant-Man." But, like "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice," this film forgets one crucial key factor - To make the audience give damn about these "heroes."


The reason films like "Ant-Man" worked for Marvel was because they emphasized that these were people first, and not just beings gifted with incredible powers. They have personalities, flaws, dreams, and are not than just some random guy in a tight suit. But in "Suicide Squad," all we get is a bunch of irredeemable assholes shooting up a bunch of rock people with no remorse or feeling that they are doing the right thing. I found none of the members of this squad to be likable in any way, including Deadshot (Will Smith) who is at one point described as "a serial killer who takes credit cards," to Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) being ruthlessly obsessed with her psychotic boyfriend, the Joker (Jared Leto), for reasons we're never told.

Of course, there are several other members of the squad, but none of them really get any depth, outside of their powers and being selfish dicks. Deadshot and Quinn are the only ones who have more than a few lines or quips, and that has more to do with the actors playing those roles.

Is "Suicide Squad" better than "Batman vs. Superman"? Probably, but only by a slim margin. "Dawn of Justice" was a terrible film all around, with very little redeemable about it outside of some performances from Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons. That film was boring, predictable and insulting to longtime fans of both Batman and Superman. "Suicide Squad" might be as boring, but its cardinal-sin is not making the audience care about what was happening. I could not relate to any of these people, because they are so much in their own twisted realities and so full of themselves that there is nothing to like.

One of the reasons I hated "Batman vs. Superman" so much was because "heroes" did not act like heroes at all, because they were so far detached from the reality they thought they were saving. At least "Suicide Squad" does not rely on this, since it doesn't attempt to portray these villains as misunderstood or heroic, but the least they could have done is given us more character development. Something to elevate these villains above assholes.


Overall, "Suicide Squad" was not enjoyable at all. This was one film where I did not like it from the start, giving me no reason to sympathize or understand what these people are going through, thus no reason to pay attention to their journey. I do not recall laughing at any jokes, every action sequences was as forgettable as the next and the soundtrack was all over the place. If this is how DC plans to make more installments of their superhero cinematic universe, then count me out.

Final Grade: D-

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Movie Review - "Shin Godzilla" (2016)



It has been 62 years since Godzilla began to thrill us, terrify us and make us excited about more giant monster movies from Japan. To me, Godzilla is creature that brings out the best and worst in ourselves - created by our own desire to have the best atomic weapons even if that meant we destroyed everything we hold close, yet we must forgive humanity for those mistakes and protect humanity from these abominations of nature and work towards a better future.

The meaning of Godzilla has changed throughout the years, from the original 1954 using him as a symbol of nuclear destruction, to the 1984 remake using that idea to say something about the Cold War-conflict, and the 1990s films that were about our inability to control nature and the world around us. Throw in themes about pollution, the rising fear of Communism throughout the world and the growing generations' lack of respect for those who died during World War II, and you've got a pretty good idea of where the Godzilla films have been.

Then you get the ones where Godzilla fights his mechanical clone built by aliens using a new metal called space titanium, or a monster that looks like a chicken with hooks for hands and a buzzsaw on his chest, and you send mixed messages.

Which brings us to the 31st entry in the Godzilla series, "Shin Godzilla" or "Godzilla Resurgence," which has left some mixed feelings among fans of the series. This film decides to take a serious approach to Godzilla's newest attack on Japan and all the problems that come with a giant lizard popping up in the world. Some fans have said it is far too much like the original "Godzilla." To those fans, I say there is plenty more that "Shin Godzilla" has to offer outside of a modern-day equivalent to the 1954 film. In fact, I don't think comparing "Godzilla Resurgence" to the original Godzilla is fair at all, nor comparing it to any other Godzilla film because this one stands out on its own.

Set in modern-day Japan, a mysterious geyser of steam and water shoots out of Tokyo Bay and destroys part of the Tokyo Bay-Aqua Line. The heads of the Japanese government immediately work to decide what this might be, most saying it is some sort of new volcanic activity, and what should be done about it. One of the deputy secretaries, Rando Yaguchi (Hiroshi Hasegawa), surmises that it must be a living oceanic creature but is almost laughed out of the room - Until a massive tail rises out of the water and begins to move towards land.


For those who are wondering, "Shin Godzilla" is not a sequel to Gareth Edwards' 2014 "Godzilla" movie. It is not connected to that film in any way, this was made by the Japanese company who have given us 28 other Godzilla entries, Toho. This is also the first Godzilla movie Toho has made in 12 years, the last one being the abysmal "Godzilla: Final Wars." Additionally, "Shin Godzilla" is not entirely men in rubber suits, using a large amount of computer generated imagery and motion capture, a first for Japanese Godzilla movies.

This new Godzilla is portrayed in ways that would have been difficult or impossible using suitmation. With tiny skeleton-like claws, a tail that seems to have a mind of its own, and a jaw that Godzilla can practically unhinge to unleash his atomic ray. This Godzilla is also constantly glowing red, as if this monstrosity had been through some sort of fire and what we see are the smoldering remains. His mouth goes up more than half of his face and has dozens of teeth scattered in odds places. Then there are his miniscule eyes, which go unnoticed at times, until Godzilla begins to fight back and his beady eyes roll over black.

To top it all off, this Godzilla is an ever-evolving creature. The first time we see Godzilla, he is no bigger than a five-story building, walking around on two tiny legs and has no arms, like an eel that sprouted legs, with blood spewing from his gills. Soon after, he learns to stand upright and his skin turns from a beige color to blood-red, while also nearly doubling in size.


Through Godzilla's design and unpredictable body structure, I was always terrified anytime Godzilla was on-screen. Rather than going for the awe of Godzilla's size and power, like the 2014 film, "Shin Godzilla" reminds us how horrifying monsters can be.

Although Godzilla is the focus of this film, he is not on-screen for long. Most of the film is spent on the Japanese government reacting to Godzilla's emergence, the process they take to stop him, and all the red tape that comes with it. Every decision to combat Godzilla has a hearing and meeting with officials and delegates to discuss everything legally. The Prime Minister feels suffocated by all this legal jargon just to get simple actions done, like giving evacuation orders and military strikes against Godzilla.

A situation that requires compassion and empathy is treated with cold and sterile questioning by the governmental system. Democracy was not equipped to deal with giant monster attacks in a timely and effective manner.

In any other monster movie, this would seem tedious and boring, but "Shin Godzilla" pulls it off masterfully through manipulating the film's main character to be the country of Japan. Rather than focusing on the people fighting Godzilla, we are given possibly hundreds of different characters who have something to say about this creature. From the biologists who want more information, to the protesters outside the research laboratories fighting to keep the military from killing this new and undiscovered species, to the body-less voices we hear throughout the film talking about the stock market collapse Godzilla brought and the recovery from the attack, we are given a national perspective of this attack.


We learn very little about these characters as people, outside of Yaguchi wanting to be Prime Minister in ten years and every one reacting to someone's stinky shirt. Instead, there is a lot of focus on hearing as many voices as possible, and the strong will of the Japanese people. After the first attack on Godzilla fails, and the United States threaten to drop a thermonuclear weapon on the monster, annihilating Tokyo in the process, there is a powerful scene where most of the government learns about their homeland is about to be destroyed by atomic fire yet again. Most of these reactions remain silent, but one thing remained - They refuse to let their country crumble like this.

I cannot think of many monster movies that forgo character development, and make up for it by showing the bond between countrymen.

This leads into the triumphant last stand, led by the special task force designed to study Godzilla, instead of the military. Instead of a bombastic display of fire power and artillery, it is a battle of wits, utilizing the strengths and weaknesses of Godzilla that have been found. And the entire sequence is set to a classic military march from an old Toho monster film, created by Akira Ifukube, who scored nearly a dozen Godzilla movies.

That scene was rewarding in so many ways. As a fan of the Godzilla series, it is wonderful to hear that classic music again and to know it is being put to good use. I can't think of many times where the Japanese people were successful in their attempts to stop Godzilla. There have been times where they stopped other weaker monsters, or stopped aliens from controlling Godzilla, but they've never succeeded in bringing Godzilla down. But even without that, the pride and conviction of the Japanese is on full display. Even if the face of their own demise, they are not willing to let their country die or be remembered as the land ravaged by monsters. Their plan to fight Godzilla is inventive and fun to watch, while being respectful of casualties.

The triumph of the Japanese people is made even stronger when they're up against such a horrifying monster, probably the most difficult Godzilla for the military to combat.


Finally, while looking at "Shin Godzilla" as fan, this one was a ton of fun. With Japan being the main character of the film, and how the Japanese people had to overcome their own shortcomings and pride to work together on this, it is reminiscent of the 1950 and 1960 Godzilla films, which were about the brotherly bonds between all nations of the world to fight the greater threats.

There are many things throughout "Shin Godzilla" that only diehard Godzilla fans would understand, especially in the sounds of the movie. All of Godzilla's roars are taken directly from films like "Mothra vs. Godzilla" and "Terror of MechaGodzilla," and uses at least six pieces of music by Akira Ifukube, all used to great effect. Every sound effect of a building blowing up, Godzilla's footsteps, his atomic breath, tanks firing their bombs, or something large falling over, is taken straight from the first era of Godzilla movies.

The sounds of a Godzilla film are very distinct and help give the series its identity. You can tell it is a Godzilla movie by the sound effects and the music. I had the biggest grin during the final scenes of the film, because this felt like an authentic Godzilla movie. "Shin Godzilla" was wonderful at being nostalgic without drawing too much attention to that.


Is "Shin Godzilla" perfect? No, there are several problems. Anytime the film cut to a different location or introduced a character, which happens a lot more than you think it would, there was text on-screen to enlighten us. This got tiresome after a while, especially when the text was usually pretty big and took up a nice part of the screen. It didn't help that I was watching this with subtitles, so those bits of text had their English-parts written on top of the Japanese text, making it hard to read.

The original music for "Shin Godzilla" is hit-or-miss. Sometimes the original rocking soundtrack seemed a bit out-of-place, especially near the end when the special task force is getting their plan together. Other times it works great, like when we first see Godzilla use his atomic breath. But other times, the guitar-based soundtrack felt inappropriate.

Overall, I love "Shin Godzilla." I would describe it as a smart monster movie, but not necessarily a deep one. It was a clever decision to make the nation of Japan the main character, especially when we get to see the fear and horror of the situation replace the logistics and emotionally detached side of governmental work. I don't think the movie is trying to say something profound, but wanted to show the tenacity of the Japanese people and how far they had come since the first Godzilla movie. Godzilla was terrifying to behold, and the special effects were put to good use, making every shot with Godzilla in it worth remembering. And it was heart-warming to see so much love for the older films in the franchise in ways you wouldn't expect it. This is best Godzilla since the end of the first era of movies in 1975, and one I wouldn't mind watching many times in the future.


Final Grade: A

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Movie Review - "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952)

If you go back through some of my older reviews, you'll probably notice one of my favorite "genres" is the movie about movies. Or, more specifically, movies about Hollywood. Films that show how the filmmakers not only put their blood, sweat and tears into their productions, but also a part of their souls. What we see on the screen is not just a movie to them, but a representation of themselves and their life experiences.

And there are often consequences that come with doing that.

Films like "Sunset Boulevard," "Ed Wood" and "Rear Window" to a lesser extent, show Hollywood and filmmaking for what it truly is - A creative, brilliant world that is always selfish and far too focused on the next big thing. Now I can add another great film to that collection - "The Bad and the Beautiful."

In this film, Kirk Douglas plays cutthroat film producer Jonathan Shields, who starts out working for a low production film company that only makes B-films, but Shields works his way up the ladder to become the leading film producer in Hollywood. But he doesn't get there by playing nice and making friends. The film is told through three flashbacks, each one coming from a "friend" of Shields, including director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), movie star Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) and screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell). Each story shows how Jonathan used each of them to his own needs and cut them loose when their usefulness ended.

In a way, "The Bad and the Beautiful"'s framing device reminded me of "Citizen Kane" - Playing up this great man for all his accomplishments and how he changed the world for the better, beloved by everyone, but over the course of the film we learn about the terrible things this man did to get to the top, and ultimately it was his own ego and stubborn pride that caused him to sink so low. By seeing this through the eyes of his friends, not through normal narrative means, it adds to the impact this convoluted and often-crazed man left on the world.

But the framing device is only part of what makes the film so wonderful. That would mean nothing if we got a weak performance from Kirk Douglas. Luckily, Douglas gives us his usual brand of over-the-top intensity that only William Shatner can match, and yet the quiet vulnerability of a man who realizes that he's made mistakes to get where he is. Douglas adds a nice layer of charisma to the role, as he makes it look so easy when the plays others to his own needs, making people like Georgia and James think they chose to be where they are. Shields might be a snake, but he's also a great charmer.


But what I love the most about this film, and what makes it so admirable, is how the film justifies Shields' actions, to say what he was doing is the right thing. At the end of each flashback, the head of the film studio, Harry Pebbel (Walter Pidgeon), makes a sarcastic remake about how each story painted Shields as the villain, and then mentions how Shields led each of these three to stardom - Fred became one of the most reliable and decorated directors in Hollywood, Georgia is now one of the most beloved actresses in the world, and James went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

This show that, while Jonathan might have been rotten to the core, he had people's' best interest in mind. He might have left many people behind, but he didn't leave them with nothing. Shields was just a man who loved filmmaking and wanted to continue making the best product he could, no matter what the consequences were.

I could go on and on about "The Bad and the Beautiful," especially about the similarities between these fictional characters and their real-life counterparts, like how Shields was supposed to David O. Selznick mixed with a bit of Orson Welles. This is the type of movie that I cannot get enough of, showing both the terrible and the tremendous sides to filmmaking and the ups and downs of a Hollywood career. "The Bad and the Beautiful" fights right in with many of the other best films about Hollywood.

Final Grade: A

Monday, October 3, 2016

Movie Review - "Blackboard Jungle" (1955)


Is it safe to say, if you’ve seen one film about juvenile delinquency, you’ve seen them all?

That’s not to say all films from the 1950s about teenage delinquents were bad, but that these films were more-or-less about the older generation making sometimes vague and blanket-covering statements about teens and their lack of concern and intelligence.

They can be good time capsules for the 1950s, like watching an entire generation throw up an S.O.S. signal to their children.

"Blackboard Jungle" works in much the same way, but stays relevant by being one of the first films to use a rock-and-roll song, in this case "Rock Around the Clock," as well as being the breakout role for a young Sidney Poitier, who gives a cool-headed performance in a film filled with overacting teens.

Nothing too spectacular about "Blackboard Jungle" outside of its approach, with trying to be understanding to both teens and adults in trying to understand where the other is coming from. This is admirable, especially for 1955, and it would have been easy to paint one side as the villain and ambiguity was a rarity.

Final Grade: C+